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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that causes strong mood swings between depression and “mania”. It used to be called "manic depression." The mood swings are different from the normal ups and downs we all normally experience in our lives. They are more severe, last longer, and can interfere with work and relationships. These episodes are changes from our usual moods and behavior. Their severity can be mild, or drastic and explosive.

  • In a manic episode, you may think fast and do things quickly. It may seem like you are getting a lot done. At first, this may feel very good. But in the extreme this can lead to a lifestyle that is disorganized, chaotic, and includes risky behavior (spending sprees, sexual acting-out, or drug use). In later stages, it may affect eating (no interest in food) and sleeping (unable to sleep for days at a time). Speech may speed up and become difficult for others to understand. You may appear to others as if you are in your own world.

  • In a depressive episode, you may feel a lack of interest in normal activities. Sometimes there is sadness or guilt without any clear reason. Thinking may become slow and there can be a lack energy or feeling of hopelessness. Some people have thoughts of harming themselves at this stage. Thoughts can even turn to suicide.

Between these phases you may actually feel OK. This does not mean that the illness is gone. People with this disorder will usually have to treat it all of their life. Medicine and good care can greatly reduce the symptoms.

The exact cause of this illness is unknown. However, there is a genetic link that makes a person more likely to get this problem. Also, the use of drugs such as speed (amphetamine) and cocaine increase the chances of this illness appearing.

Home care

  • On-going care and support helps people manage this disease.  Find a healthcare provider and therapist who meet your needs.  Seek help when you feel like you may be heading into either a manic episode or a depressive state.

  • Be sure to take your medicine and get regular blood work to check your the levels of medicine in your body.  Take the medicine and get the follow-up lab work as prescribed, even if you think you don’t need to do it.

  • Be certain to tell each of your healthcare providers about all of the prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and supplements you take. Certain supplements interact with medicines and result in dangerous side effects.  You can also use your pharmacist as a resource person when you have questions about drug interactions.

  • Talk with your family and trusted friends about your thoughts and feelings.  Ask them to help you recognize behavior changes early so you can get help and medicines can be adjusted.

  • Alcohol and drugs can bring on an episode, and also make them worse

  • If your life is severely impacted by this illness, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may provide help. The ADA protects people with chronic physical and mental health problems. If you are having trouble keeping jobs, managing workplace issues, or caring for yourself because of your bipolar disorder, contact your local ADA office to see if they can help. The US Department  of Justice operates a toll-free ADA information line at: 800-514-0301 (Voice); or 800-514-0383 (TTY).  They can help you locate a local office.  

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor or therapist as advised. They can help you to find ways to improve your life.

Call 911

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • You have suicidal thoughts, a plan, and the means to  harm yourself

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confusion

  • Drowsiness or trouble wakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate, very low heart rate, or a new irregular heart rate

  • Seizure

  • New chest pain that becomes more severe, lasts longer, or spreads into your shoulder, arm, neck, jaw, or back

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Feeling like your symptoms are getting worse (depression, agitation, excess energy)

  • Unable to eat or sleep for more than 48 hours

  • Feeling out of control (racing thoughts, poor concentration)

  • Feeling like you want to harm yourself or another

  • Being unable to care for yourself


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